Outdoors: Trails connect people and places

October 6, 2021

Outdoors: Trails connect people and places

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

I recently did some hiking in New York State. I’ve been on a mission to hike the six major branch trails of the Finger Lakes Trail System. Of course I’ll get an embroidered patch for that accomplishment. These branches all run either north or south from the main east-west FLT. 

Of the six, only the Crystal Hills Branch runs south instead of north. There’s an interesting reason for this. It connects the Finger Lakes Trail with Pennsylvania and what is known as the Mid-State Trail.

The Mid-State trail traverses Pennsylvania, stretching 327 miles approximately from Lawrenceville, PA in the north to Flintstone, MD at the southern end. It follows ridge lines and is surprisingly rugged and remote-feeling. But wait… it’s not over if you reach Maryland. From there, the pathway continues south on the Great Eastern Trail and reaches Alabama along the western side of the Appalachian Mountains. Along the way, it connects or overlaps with the Pinhoti Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and several other less-well-known trails.

In 2019, the North Country Trail was officially extended east to connect with the Appalachian Trail in Vermont. This means you could create a huge loop hike combining the AT, GET, and FLT. Everyone loves loops.

What’s my point? In recent years, more and more emphasis has been placed on trail connections. There are federal programs to support this concept in local contexts, such as Safe Routes to School which seeks to provide off-road pathways to connect neighborhoods with schools. 

Under various names and with varying amounts of funding each year, the Transportation Enhancements program has helped create pedestrian walkways on bridges, add safety lighting to urban trails, and increase access for persons with disabilities. 

In short, people want to be able to travel to places of interest and need without driving a car. The era of the near-mandatory private vehicle is passing. You know I applaud that situation.

So, back to the Crystal Hills Trail—how was it? It was 51 miles of New York State gorgeous. Views of rolling hills, shale-lined creek beds, cemeteries with birthdates in the 1700s, and waterfalls varying from trickles to the lovely “Little Niagara” near Addison. Of course there was pouring rain to feed those waterfalls, climbing of said rolling hills, and some road walks where the trail has not yet found rights-of-way. Altogether perfect.

I hiked with my best friend, Marie. We did the Crystal Hills and Letchworth Branch Trails. The Letchworth gorge is famous as one of the several cracks in the earth nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the East. Just to continue the connection theme, the Letchworth Trail connects to the Genesee Valley Greenway, a rail-trail, which could lead you to the Erie Canal Heritage Trail (note that both of those trails follow historic transportation corridors), which can take you to almost to a connection with Canada’s Bruce Trail, or eastward to Rome, NY and back to the North Country Trail. You get my point. 

Marie and I have been doing this together for 60 years and it never gets old. OK, we took a short hiatus while raising kids, but we’ve walked an average of about 100 miles together every summer since 1991. If you want to test a friendship, just give both parties a backpack, a long hill, rain, a blister and less-than-ideal food. You’ll soon find out how strong the friendship is. And you’ll probably have a blast doing it!

Joan Young, who lives in Amber Township, is an avid hiker who has the honor of having been the first woman to hike the entire North Country Trail.

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This story is copyrighted © 2021, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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